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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A stirring 1864 letter by President Abraham Lincoln in reply to a petition to free all U.S. slave children may become the most expensive Lincoln manuscript ever sold, Sotheby's auction house said on Friday.
The letter is the centerpiece of an April 3 auction of a collection of 111 lots -- "Presidential and Other American Manuscripts from the Dr. Robert Small Trust" -- that Sotheby's said could fetch up to $11.9 million.
The response to the "Little People's Petition" is likely to sell for between $3 million and $5 million. Sotheby's said it includes Lincoln's most personal and powerful statement on God, slavery and emancipation.
"Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not that power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it," Lincoln wrote in the letter.
He was responding to an April 1864 petition simply titled "Children's petition to the President asking him to free all the little slave children in this country," which was signed by 195 boys and girls under the age of 18.
In 1862 and 1863, Lincoln signed two executive orders known together as the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free slaves held in some Confederate states. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution that formally abolished slavery was ratified in December, 1865.
Sotheby's said the Small collection featured the greatest number of significant Lincoln letters to be offered for sale in more than 25 years. The collection also features manuscripts from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Eric Walsh